Costumes for Opera
I have been looking through a small box of fabric scraps, intending to use some for a project I am designing. These are no ordinary scraps. I had been collecting these tiny treasures for years when I visited San Francisco and a fabulous fabric emporium on a small side street near Union Square. Of course they carried a very wide range of fabrics for every sewing need, but I was interested in their collection of extravagant, luxury fabrics, many of which were imported. I did not need, nor could I afford, to buy yardage, but I would spend much time sorting through containers of very small scraps. For a few dollars, I could purchase bits and pieces of heavily embroidered, jewel encrusted silks and velvets, whispery tulles and beautiful laces.
On one visit as I was entranced by rolls of these fabrics, afraid to even touch them, an assistant approached , possibly thinking I had a credit card limit in the astronomical range. She told me of her last customer who had purchased rolls of these fabrics for use by the costume department of the San Francisco Opera. Of course, this was the perfect use for these magical textiles.
Opera Themes and Plots, Rudolph Fellner, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1958
As I thought about that visit and the sales attendant’s story about the opera, I remembered an article I have saved from Threads Magazine, Oct/Nov 2011 entitled “Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Opera. Written by Kenneth D. King, it was the behind-the scenes world of the costume and design department with a staff of 100. When one thinks of the operatic experience it is the combination of magnificent music, superb vocalists and theater. It is a performance which tells a story. The magic is enhanced by the spectacular scenery and costumes. Whether the performance is traditional or a modern adaptation, the performers must evoke their characters and this is achieved visually (through costumes and scenery) as well as vocally.
The design staff of any costume department has many highly skilled artisans. The workshops are filled with tailors and seamstresses, drafts-men and. pattern-makers with years of experience. While the drapers and cutters calculate the fabrics required, it is the shoppers that tour the world searching for not only the required fabrics for a specific performance, but also for inspirations, which might appear in later creations. This would be my dream job, traveling and sourcing trims and fabrics.
This is not to be, I fear. I must remain content to dress myself for a night at the opera.